Sagrada, released last year by Floodgate Games, is a quick-moving and elegant game of dice ‘drafting’ and pattern-matching, playing out over ten fast rounds as players compete to fill out their boards, representing stained glass windows, with 20 dice to maximize their total points. The catch is that there are several rules that govern where you can place those dice, which increases the difficulty and makes the last few rounds a bit more stressful if you haven’t been lucky or planned properly.
In Sagrada, each player starts the game with a private objective card that specifies one of the five colors of dice and gives the player points at the end of the game equal to the total of all dice of that color on his/her board, which can easily make up 1/3 or more of your final score. Each player then gets to choose from four randomly assigned boards to slip into the window holder, which contains a cardboard framework to hold dice in place once you’ve played them; matching your private objective card to the board you pick, or at least ensuring they don’t work against each other, is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in the game. Three public objective cards, which players can achieve multiple times, are then placed on the table, as well as three Tool cards that players can use (for a price) to move dice or alter values.
Sagrada comes with 90 dice, 18 of each of the five colors, and in each of the ten rounds, players will get to draft (select) dice pulled from the bag and rolled, with the number of dice equal to the number of players plus one. The start player takes one die and places it immediately, and then each player does the same in clockwise order; the last player to take a die gets to select another one, and the draft goes back around to the start player, so that there will be at least one die remaining at the end of each round—more if any player chose or was forced to pass because s/he couldn’t legally play any die. Any leftover dice are placed on the next open space on the Round Tracker board, and may be relevant for certain Tool cards later in the game.
The boards all have varying configurations of colored spaces, spaces showing specific die values, and white spaces. You must match whatever is on the space where you’re placing a die; white spaces can take any die and any value. However, you can’t place two dice orthogonally adjacent to each other if they have the same color or the same value. This affects what dice you try to place on spaces next to marked spaces; if you place a red six in a white space next to a red space, you won’t be able to fill the latter space at all because placing a red die there would be illegal.
Some boards are more difficult to play than others, and each has a rating from 3 to 6, which grants the player that number of ‘favor stones’ to use to employ Tools. The first player to use any Tool card places one stone on it and carries out the stated actions; any subsequent use of the card costs two stones. These cards can allow you to reroll a die you drafted, to put a die back in the bag and take another one at random, to flip a die to the value on the opposite side of the cube (which is 7 minus the original value), move two dice you’ve already placed, and make other manipulations to dice or board.
The public objective cards grant players two to five points for each time they satisfy one of its conditions at end-game, generally less than players get from their private cards but still significant in the final scoring. Some cards grant two points for each specific pair of dice—one and two, or five and six—shown. One grants five points for each set of all six values found on the board, so in theory you could get 15 points from that. Another grants four points for each column where you had four distinct values on the four dice, for a potential maximum of 20 points.
At game end, each player scores his/her private objective card, all public objective cards, loses one point for each space left empty on his/her board, and earns one point for each remaining favor stone. Our early plays, as we were just learning the game, ran into the 50s, but I would guess more experienced players can score higher by planning better around the dice and objective cards. The dice themselves are pretty small, and we found it too easy to knock them over and alter their values or boot them off our boards by mistake. Policing the boards is the game’s biggest obstacle, as every one of us made a placement mistake during each game we played—usually placing dice with the same value but different colors adjacent to each other. (The rules say that such an error, when discovered, requires the offending player to remove the die from his/her board entirely.) We played several games, none of which took the full 30 minutes suggested on the box, and the kids in the group, ages 11 and 12, had no trouble with the concept or the rules (at least, no more trouble than the adults did). There’s virtually no downtime within the game, and the replay value is really high between the random dice rolls and all of the tool and objective cards to make each play different. Had I played it in time for the list, it would definitely have made my top 10 of 2017.
Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. You can read his baseball content at search.espn.go.com/keith-law and his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.